“Put paid” (500th post!)

This is a red-letter post: the 500th one since I started doing Not One-Off Britishisms more than six years ago. The surprising thing is that the NOOBs keep coming.

I was alerted to the latest by Andrew Mytelka of the Chronicle of Higher Education, who noted that two op-ed pieces in the December 8 issue of the New York Times, both about Middle East politics, use the same British expression.

Bret Stephens (an American): “One piety is that ‘Mideast peace’ is all but synonymous with Arab-Israeli peace. Seven years of upheaval, repression, terrorism, refugee crises and mass murder in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Iraq and Syria have put paid to that notion.”

And Roger Cohen (an Englishman): “Well, some would argue, Trump put paid to any notion that the United States is an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians.”

The OED defines “put paid to” as “to deal finally or effectually with; to place out of contention or consideration; to terminate or thwart (an aspiration, plan, etc.) conclusively.” The first citation is from 1901. It is definitely a Britishism, as seen in this Google Ngram chart showing the term’s frequency of use in British and American books:

Screen Shot 2017-12-12 at 11.48.26 AM


As the red line suggests, there have been occasional appearances in U.S. sources. Some from the Times:
Sports article, 1970: “Rod Laver, the defending champion, put ‘paid’ to Cliff Richey’s astonishing run of successes and soundly spanked the little Texan 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, to take the Embassy indoor tennis final with the winner’s check of $7,200.”
Unattributed 1986 opinion piece: “Certainly, the deal with France and the French illusion that safety can be bought this way should put paid to the misty arguments that terrorism must be addressed by resolving its so-called political cause of Palestinian grievances.”
Essay by A.O. Scott, 2007: “The movie western had retreated from its position as a quintessential and vital form of American storytelling, undone by the same cultural tumult that had put paid to other manifestations of midcentury consensus.”
And from a 2012 New Yorker piece by D.T. Max, a use that doesn’t quite seem to fit the OED definition (except maybe ironically): “Thus my son and I, side by side supine in the bed, conquered ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘Robin Hood,’ ‘The Jungle Book’ and ‘The Hobbit,’ and this week we put paid to ‘The Time Machine.'”
Over the past couple of years, every time I’ve done a NOOBs post, I’ve thought to myself, “That may be the last one.” But the experience of continually encountering new ones has put paid to that notion. See you at 501!




7 thoughts on ““Put paid” (500th post!)

  1. I have to comment slightly digressively on the nomenclature for the area of the world they’re discussing. In the UK it is (I would think invariably) the Middle East, or as an adjective it’s Middle Eastern. You have used Middle east as an adjectival phrase and then quote Bret Stephens as saying ‘Mideast’. As a long-time reader of yours, Ben, I’m, always alert to these little nuances!

    And – many congratulations on your 500th post – may there be many more!

    1. It’s also a term that has changed meaning over the last hundred years. Wikipedia points out (and I remember teachers mentioning this at school) that the area around Turkey and the eastern shore of the Mediterranean was the Near East and China and Japan was the Far East and the Middle East was that bit in between.

      1. I remember that as well. I have a book published in the 1960’s that includes a section about the RAF in Iraq in the 1920’s. It refers to it as the “Near East”

  2. Cheers for your 500th (raising tea mug)!

    The Near East used to be called the Levant. That would be the eastern Mediterranean countries. I wonder when we stopped using that.

    1. “The Levant” has probably seen an uptick in usage recently because of the debates over how to translate the Arabic term usually rendered in the American press as “ISIS”. The second ‘S’ in ISIS refers to Syria, but some feel that the name is better rendered as “ISIL” with the ‘L’ referring to “the Levant”. The Arabic word is sham, which refers to the whole coastal region encompassing the modern states of Syria, Lebanon, and Israel.

  3. Your final, 2012, example perhaps harks back to the origins of this expression, the idea of stamping ‘PAID’ on an invoice, to show that it has been satisfactorily dealt with. Nowadays the expression has undergone pejoration, and the idea of something being ‘put paid to’ is almost always a matter of regret or frustration.

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